Man remembers convoy duties

On July 11, 1943, Dick Collette of Fort Frances was about a year into his duty as an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the H.M.C.S. Iroquois when a German aircraft bombed one of the troop ships in their convoy near the coast of Spain.
The S.S. Duchess of York had been carrying members of the Royal Canadian Air Force–several hundred of whom were plucked safely from the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean afterwards by the crew of the “Iroquois.”
“You could look up and see the planes opening up their bomb shutters,” Collette recalled late last week. “We rescued 600 survivors. A lot of others didn’t make it.
“One thing I remember quite well was going into the wheelhouse the next morning and seeing John Safnuk standing there,” smiled Collette. “He’d been one of the survivors and was someone who’d worked with me in the mill here.
“We took them over to Casablanca [Morocco] and I don’t know what happened to them after that,” he added (Safnuk went on to finish his tour with the RCAF until his discharge in 1945).
Meanwhile, Collette stayed on with the H.M.C.S. Iroquois and served in the Murmansk convoys. The convoys, made up of British, Canadian, and U.S. naval vessels, provided escort to merchant ships carrying supplies of oil, food, and military equipment to the port in northern Russia.
Those convoys were vital to the Russian war effort.
“Murmansk is above the Arctic Circle–halfway to the North Pole,” noted Collette. “It was stormy and windy all the time.”
Collette also recalled one of three captains of the H.M.C.S. Iroquois as a real “Captain Bligh.” In fact, he was hated so much the crew eventually took matters into their own hands.
“He was so miserable,” said Collette. “I saw him punch an officer one day and he was [always] swearing and cursing. We had a mutiny.
“We locked ourselves in the mess deck and when the first lieutenant told him ‘Your crew has mutinied,’ he had a heart attack right there,” Collette related.
“He was taken off the ship and we never saw him again,” he added.